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Jason Ridler has published over 30 short stories in venues such as Brain Harvest, Not One of Us, Crossed Genres, Chilling Tales, Tesseracts Thirteen, as well as Big Pulp and many other venues. His non-fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Dark Scribe, and the Internet Review of Science Fiction. A former punk rock musician and cemetery groundskeeper, Mr. Ridler is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and holds a Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. Visit him at his writing blog, Ridlerville, Facebook, and on Twitter.

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The spicy oregano stink of Dad’s version of Mom’s spaghetti filled the house. Tamara shut the door, slipped past the half empty boxes she’d filled at Mom’s, and checked her email. Zero. Daniel was waiting for her to send one, to say she made it all right. But Mom said that hard to get always gets what she wants.

A big green and empty backyard looked back at her through her temporary bedroom window. She imagined the grey and yellow parking lot view from the apartment, the changing patterns of the little cars, the packages that changed hands as dusk hit. She missed the stairwell, playing cards with Daniel, sharing one of his mother’s menthol smokes; each drag like a winter breeze indoors.

Grass? Fresh air? “Boring,” she said to her reflection.

The scar on her forehead was barely visible, but it still hurt. Lucky. That’s what the doctor called a mild concussion from the car accident. Said she had to be careful and take it easy and maybe she’d remember, but who the hell wanted to remember an accident?

“Dinner’s on, Tam!” Dad yelled.

God, she thought, what is this? The Marines?

Her computer chimed. An email had landed. Mom was right again. She smiled, then flipped through a Sandman comic on her new bed until Dad called again.

Yellow light from weak bulbs covered the big, orderly kitchen. She liked his spaghetti better cold and played with it until the steam eased.

Dad’s shirt gripped him tight. He’s too cheap to buy a new one, she thought, admit he’s gained weight. His rough face looked older in this cheap light. “Do any more exploring?”

“Found some whisky bottles and condoms behind the dumpster of the Seven-Eleven.”

Dad’s granite face chewed slowly. “Huh. Made any friends in the neighbourhood?”

“Not yet. Maybe if I hang out at the Seven-Eleven long enough, though.” The granite reddened. She smiled inside. This beat reality TV any day. She ate a warm mushroom. “I’m stuffed. Can I be excused?”

“You should really try to make some friends here, Tamara. This is a nice neighbourhood.”

“If nice means boring.”

“Nice means safe.” She prepared to hold her breath until Dad finished his “I was an orphan in Bonnie Rig” speech. Instead, he said, “This is a good place to come home to.”

Home. Another four-letter word she didn’t say in front of her father. He wanted her to stay put. For good. She remembered overhearing the first counselor, the bottle blond with bad teeth, say that Tamara might run away. Disappear. Unless she had a stable home. Tamara smiled: Mom had told that bitch to go to hell, that she didn’t know her daughter at all. Not Dad, though. Didn’t make a peep.

She forked a pepper. “I liked it better with…at the apartment.” She chewed on the cuff of her long sleeve shirt. “Sorry.”

Dad nodded, took a moment, then spoke. “It’s ok. It’s normal. She’s your mother.” God, he almost sounded like the judge awarding custody three years ago, word for word. “But she’s sick. Until she’s well again,” he smiled, “I guess you’re stuck with me.”

She sighed. “For how long?”

His lip trembled once, but he ate the rest of his dinner in cold silence. The spaghetti she’d been playing with now looked like blood and stringy hair and her stomach tightened. She asked to be excused again. He nodded.

Daniel’s sappy email made her groan. He hoped she was ok. Things sucked now. There was no one to stay out with all night, smoking and talking comics and boo freaking hoo. He asked if she’d borrowed his Sandman volume II, he was scared he’d lost it.

“Borrowed?” It sat on her bed. She touched the scar. Stupid. Of course. She’d borrowed it. She finished the email.

“why don’t you come back to Toronto, just for a weekend, could you stay with your mom’s new boyfriend?”

Todd? Old news after the accident. She hit delete and wondered how many heart attacks Dad would have if she vanished and then reappeared? Would he send her back?

Tamara lay the parcel containing Dan’s comics down on the post office desk. She figured he’d like the surprise. “How long will it take for this to get to Scarborough from here?”

The overweight woman with glasses and a bucktooth mouth gawked. “Where?”

“Scarborough. You know, Scarberia? In Toronto.”

“Oh,” she took the parcel and read the address. “A few days. Week on the safe side.”

“Damn, that’s a long time,” Tamara said.

“Not like you’re mailing it to yourself.” She weighed the package. “Five fifty. What’s inside?”

A smart-ass remark almost left her tongue when a question popped out instead. “How long does a letter take to arrive at your own house?”

“One to two days if it is picked up before 3 p.m.”

She paid for the parcel’s postage, a book of stamps, and some envelopes. At home, door shut, she began to write.

Dear Dad,

If you’re reading this, I’m already gone.


She smiled at the ambiguity. She could be dead. She could have run away. She could have gone for a donut! She’d spend the day in town, smoking and reading more of Daniel’s comics, then reappear. He’d crack worse than a trembling lip! She’d be on the next bus back home before his last tear dropped!

But Tamara didn’t trust the ugly lady. This had to be perfect. She’d do a test run. She put the letter in the envelope, signed the new address, and slapped on a stamp. She said she was going for a walk, but he was crouched over his desk, typing up reports or whatever, and didn’t hear her. Let’s see if he misses me when I’m really gone, she thought, lighting a cigarette against the wind.

She finished her smoke, found the nearest mailbox, and fired it into the chute. A block away in the shade of a birch tree, some girls in summer dresses, each a different colour, stopped walking and stared. Tamara lit another smoke and gave them the finger. They muttered swears at her as she walked back home.

Days later, Dad knocked on her door. “Tam? Can I come in?”

She had almost finished the Preacher comic she’d found in a box of other comics she must have borrowed from Dan. “Sure.”

He looked awful, almost like the post office troll, and the bags under his eyes were almost blue. “I’ve got some time off this afternoon. Thought you might want to see a movie. We could go to a matinee. Like we did for your birthday.”

She turned a page. “Kinda busy.” She’d noticed yesterday that the mail came around one p.m.

He nodded his head seriously. “Right, right.” Then turned around and left. Face twitching. She closed her eyes against the guilt swelling in her gut, then blurted out, “Maybe we could do it, uh, Friday?”

Dad’s head popped back. “Friday.” He nodded his head, doing some kind of mental math. His face hardened. “Absolutely. Why don’t you pick the film? My treat.” A smile broke through his hard Scottish face before he left. It looked weird. The guilt faded.

Later, she heard the sound of the mailbox’s squeaky hinges. Dad, back at his desk, told her to slow down. She popped outside to see the mailman’s blue and white form jut around the hedges and head for the next house. She grabbed the letters and rifled through them. Bills. A National Geographic magazine. And a plain letter with no name, just an address. She shoved it in her pocket, put the other junk on the kitchen table, and marched to her room to read the letter.

A different envelope. Tougher. A date was branded to the stamp. 12 April 2004. “Postal Troll lost my letter,” she muttered, opening the envelope. She dropped on her bed, reading the first line.

“Mother. If you’re reading this, I’m already gone.”

She read it a dozen times but the stunned sensation never left her face.

“I want you to know that this isn’t about you. I just can’t pretend anymore. It’s too hard. I don’t feel real, but it still hurts. No one thinks I can be sad. No one sees me. Not the way I am. The way I feel. I’m lost in this skin. But it’s just a pretty shell. That’s all everyone wants to see. To touch. But I don’t feel anything good. And that scares me.

“I love you, Mother. But I’m not a toy, or an appliance, or a showpiece. They can’t leave their trophy shelf. I can. Please don’t be too sad.

Love, Emily.”

Chimes rang out of her computer. She ignored the message from Daniel and tucked the letter beneath her pillow and walked through the day in a haze.

She woke the next morning, shivering. She’d dreamed of broken glass and ghosts in mist. She dressed quickly, reading Daniel’s email, and ran into the afternoon sunlight, packages in hand.

The same postal troll stood behind the office desk. She fired off the latest batch of Daniel’s comics Tamara had discovered in her boxes, but wouldn’t give the forwarding address to the old owners of Dad’s house.

Stumped, she walked back home, past the Seven Eleven, her mish-mashed dream following her, a dark memory swirling.


(Complete story available in Big Pulp Fall 2011 issue)



Flight Risk by Jason Ridler  
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